In sitcoms, Tom Rosenthal has learnt from the best. On Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner, Tamsin Greig plays his mum and Mark Heap is the Goodman family’s deranged Mrs Goodman-obsessed neighbour.
Over on ITV2’s Plebs, Doon Mackichan plays the boss of Rosenthal’s hapless slave Marcus.
Both shows are soon coming back for a new series – Michelle Keegan spoke this week about her bizarre cameo in Plebs where, as Rosenthal puts it, “It’s the same stuff: nudity, gratuitous sexual content and togas. What more could you want?”
“I didn’t think my sitcom should be a TV show”
Rosenthal, the son of veteran ITV sports commentator Jim Rosenthal, has certainly put his sitcom lessons to good use. This weekend sees the start of the first sitcom he’s written. BBC3’s hilarious Flat TV is based on his relationship with his former real-life flatmate Naz Osmanoglu, with their thoughts played out via their favourite TV shows.
Check it out with our exclusive clip from the series above.
Rosenthal, the 28-year-old self-confessed “control freak” of the Flat TV pair, somehow found time between dominating the TV screen to reveal he’s finally stopped being weird around his comedy heroes.
Loaded: How did Flat TV come about?
Tom Rosenthal: Naz and I lived together for three years, walking around doing stupid voices and watching TV all day. We’ve just made that into a TV show. The BBC knew we lived together and said “Would you like to come up with a show?” It started out as two-minute online shorts, and then the BBC asked if we could turn that into a full TV show.
“I was covered in piss, shit and vomit”
Loaded: That sounds too good to be true…
If I’m honest, I didn’t think Flat TV should be a TV show. We didn’t think it would work in a longer format. But if the BBC are saying “Could you make a TV show for us?” it felt silly to say no. It’s essentially a traditional double-act sitcom, viewed through the unique prism of mine and Naz’s favourite TV shows. It took about 40 drafts before we knew what the format should be.
Loaded: How real is the on-screen relationship between you and Naz?
Naz really is an idiot and I am a control freak. The arguments we have in the show are the ones we should have in real life. But instead of saying what I think, I suppress it and get very anxious. Whenever one of us wrote a draft script for the show, the other would read it and go “So THAT’S what you think about me…” They’d respond, and the final draft would just be us calling each other dickheads. Naz is a strange man who says some amazing stuff. He really does belive that lobsters can live forever, as he said in the pilot episode. And last week he asked me if meat is a carbohydrate.
Loaded: Plebs is back soon too. The writers put you through some horrible moments…
There was one episode where we were covered in piss, shit and vomit. You think “How can it get worse?”, but the writers always find a way. This new series is even more disgusting, so it’s the best one.
“I’ve generally got my bum out, performing a sex act on an innocent actress”
Loaded: What’s it like filming Plebs in Bulgaria, which doubles as Ancient Rome?
Well, Friday Night Dinner is really comfy. We sit on sofas a lot and eat meringues. But in Bulgaria, it’s cold, I’m outside a lot and I’m essentially wearing a dress. I have to do far more embarrassing scenes too. I’ve generally got my bum out, performing some sort of sex act on an innocent actress. Bulgaria is wonderful, but we live in a hotel which I think is run by the Mafia.
Loaded: Does that mean you’re a made man in Bulgaria?
I’m very connected there. If you want a prostitute or if anyone is bothering you, I can sort you out. It’s a strange place. Not many tourists go to Bulgaria, and a man shouted “Fuck off, foreigners!” at us. In perfect English. And he was wearing an England cap.
Loaded: What can we expect from the new series of Plebs?
Marcus has a girlfriend now. He meets a delightful Gaul in the first episode. She’s very free-spirited, lives in the moment and likes getting naked. Marcus likes none of those things. So he spends the series pretending to give a shit about politics and being comfortable in his body. It’s less about chasing women now and more about keeping one trapped.
“After Broadchurch, I’ll gladly take any other weird little stalker roles”
Loaded: You were in the second series of Broadchurch, as creepy Gary. Do you have any other serious acting roles coming up?
I don’t know what my year holds once I finish filming the new Friday Night Dinner. If there are any other roles as weird little stalkers that I can pop up in, I’d gladly take them. It was great to be in a show that has such a cultural impact as Broadchurch. But I’ll try anything if I can make enough money to eat apple crumble, which is what I’m doing now.
Loaded: How much do you learn from co-stars like Doon Mackichan, Mark Heap and Tamsin Greig?
When I did the first series of Friday Night Dinner, I was blown away to be acting with so many people I’d revered growing up. I used to look up the cast on Wikipedia and know all these weird facts about them, which is just odd behaviour. You can’t have a normal conversation with someone when you know strange facts about them. They just think you’re odd. I try to steal as much as I can from how they act, but everyone has a unique style, so you have to work out what your own way is and realise there’s no one way of doing it.
“I made our grandma’s boobs Simon Bird’s phone screensaver”
Loaded: How hard is it not to corpse on set in Friday Night Dinner when Mark Heap is in full flow?
It’s impossible, but he gets really angry if you do ruin a take. Mark is so funny that it’s unfair that he gets angry. I’ve perfected digging my nails into my hand to stop laughing. But Mark Heap is doing me great internal damage. My lungs have to work really hard in order to keep a neutral look on my face.
Loaded: Are you and your Friday Night Dinner brother Simon Bird as violent towards each other in real life?
If he gets to slap me around the head in one scene, I make sure I get to knee him in the back in the next one. I stuck my finger up his nose a couple of days ago. There was a photo of our grandma on the show on set once. I zoomed in on her boobs and made that photo Simon’s phone screensaver. But our pranks are rarely as clever as that. It’s usually just kicking him in the shins and punching him in the head.
Loaded: With three sitcoms out this year, it must be hard to find the time to do any more stand-up comedy?
You’re right. Flat TV has taken up my whole life, making it as good as it can be. I’d love to go back to doing it properly. Maybe I’ll go back when my sitcom career dies.
Loaded: Your dad was a director at Oxford United. How disappointed is he that you support Arsenal?
Not at all. He knows I have a much nicer time watching Arsenal than I would have done watching Oxford. Also, dad was brought up in Oxford, but I was born in North London, so it makes sense to support my local team too. It means dad gets to watch Arsenal a lot, which he quite enjoys.
Loaded: What do you make of Arsenal’s season?
It’s terrible – I want to kill myself. Please don’t ask any more questions about it. What a bleak tone to end the interview on.
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn